An Open Letter to The Father I Can Not Love

Up until the age of five, you were my entire world. The sun and the moon, the grass and the trees, the only one I wanted to see. I loved my mother, but you were my favorite. The one that always kept me laughing and had the hugs I craved. I was your favorite little girl, a great replacement for the son you had always dreamt of. The girl who loved to watch WWE wrestling and reenact the chair smashing moves, the girl who was more interested in playing spider man with you than Barbie with my mom, the girl who helped you skin a deer on the back porch, the girl who at the age of four shot a groundhog dead with your pistol under what seemed like the most careful supervision. You were who I wanted to be when I grew up.

 

When you went on that hunting trip in 1998 and my mom secretly moved herself, my brother, and I to a new house in a nearby neighborhood I viewed her act as the ultimate betrayal. I thought she was purposely severing this special and all important bond simply to hurt us. As I sat on a blanket soaking in the sunshine of a beautiful summers day with my infant brother and watched her move all of our things from the house with her own brother, I kept waiting for you to come home; you to say, “Sorry I couldn’t help you guys with the packing and moving, but I’ll meet you at the new house!” You never did, only spiraled deeper into the alcoholism that my five year old mind could not yet comprehend. My mother robbed me of all joy. She moved me away from my happiness, my idol, my best friend. I thought about you daily and waited for your call.

 

In 1999 I remember sitting outside of your house with my mom in her teal Dodge Caravan bursting with excitement to finally see my daddy. It became clear, after what seemed like two hours, that you weren’t going to show. We went back to our new home.

 

As you and my mother waged a war against each other, being the oldest child, I was often left a casualty from the misplaced bludgeons. The stories of your alcoholism, laziness, poor upbringing, and statements calling you my, “sperm donor,” colored my pristinely clear vision of you. When I would get to see you, I would excitedly tell you stories about my life, which greatly included the presence of my mother and her new boyfriend. You got angry and felt hurt, and no longer wished to hear me speak. I wanted to share every part of me with you, but you wanted to preserve and nurture your own heart at the great cost of mine. And yet again, you were gone.

 

Was it that you didn’t know how to be a father? Or could you not handle those eyes of mine with colors that shifted with my mood, so perfectly mirroring the woman of whom you still greatly loved? Or was it your pride that needed to be saved, not bearing to hear the stories of your wife’s new boyfriend and his delicious homemade spaghetti and meatballs that your daughter raved over for days?

 

In 2002 or 2003, you had finally decided to reignite the relationship with my brother, Mitchell, and I. Mitch, having only been an infant and not quite understanding that you were his father rather than the live in man who was raising us, was nervous and confused. I, on the other hand, was filled with joy to finally have my daddy back. The first few months were incredible. I counted the days till our next visit where we would play paintball, go to parks and festivals, play with your girlfriend’s dogs, and just enjoy each other’s company. I didn’t mind sharing what little time we had together with my brother, because I was so happy for him to get to know the world’s greatest dad.

 

But as our visits continued, you drew away from me as if I were filth. Instead of taking me to Home Depot and teaching me how to do projects around the house you would take my brother and leave me home. As I was sitting on the floor in the living room between your then fiancés legs as she would try to fix my nappy African hair that my white mother still could not understand and maintain, you were choosing ceiling fans with Mitchell, joking about different heavy fixtures falling and crushing me to my death. As I was sent to the nail salon with said fiancé, Sally, to fix the nails that had broken whilst hiking, you were picking up paintball supplies and ammo with Mitchell remarking on my resemblance to Gollum from Lord of The Rings, and again fantasizing of my death. While you, Sally, and Mitchell, spent a weekend doing activities like bike rides, yard cleaning, picnics, and dinners, I was sent to my room for two and a half days with no food or companionship, forced to watch the fun through my windows. While Mitchell was sent to spend time with our step siblings you would sit me down at the kitchen table and interrogate me for hours on end about what my mother and step father, Dan, were up to; forced to say I didn’t love them, forced to understand that they were very bad people. And if I defied? If I said I loved these people that loved and cared for me? Clumps of hair were torn from my head and thrown to the floor in order to teach a memorable lesson.

 

In 2005, you came to pick me up from soccer practice and it wasn’t your custody scheduled day. Fear had consumed me. I decided I couldn’t see you any longer. I couldn’t keep feeling this hurt. I couldn’t keep allowing myself to be crushed by the man I had held on a pedestal for the past thirteen years. Every name you called me, every time you laughed at my tears, each time you chose my brother over me simply for being a boy, every time you screened and ignored my phone calls, every time my mom had to hold me as a cried myself to sleep wondering why you didn’t love me, every time you cackled at the idea of my death….

 

Every time, every single time, was a tap of the hammer, slowly chiseling away at the porcelain pedestal with my beating and fragile heart encased inside, until I was finally left with just you, a skeleton of me, and the wreckage of our past on the sidelines of a middle school soccer field.

 

I told you it was over, that I would no longer visit you. I stood with my coach, and he held you back from me. He took me home. My mom held me yet again through tsunami sized waves of tears, trying to heal my broken heart with the power of her own love for me. You called and said I was lucky there were witnesses.

 

In 2008, you filed for full custody of both Mitchell and I, not for the love of your children, but the lust for revenge on the woman that broke your own heart ten years prior. The court sent you and I to counseling, and after we were held back from a fist fight, the therapist said we should never see each other. Mitchell told the courts he didn’t want full custody with you, only split. He did this after I told him that there was not a chance you would love him less for telling the truth of what he wanted. You never came to pick him up. Neither of us have seen you since.

 

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

9:30 AM – I’m in the shower getting ready for a day of work, and briefly think about contacting you. This is not an unusual thought, it crosses my mind nearly once a month. I let the thought leave me and think of my plans for after work.

 

12:30 PM – A man walks into the bar that I serve at. I get the chills because he looks like you, but vaguely different. This man seems shorter, thicker, older, and this man has a rather large circular bald patch on the crown of his head, where you only had a thin patch. I stare with disbelief for minutes on end at the resemblance of you and this man. I see Sally, your now wife of ten years, and I can no longer pretend that this is simply your doppelgänger. This is you. My heart rate jumps to 130 beats per minute, I am sweating through my uniform, tears are rapidly falling down my cheeks, I lose my voice completely, and as I turn around to run I notice I’ve been double sat.

 

I run out the back door of the building and call my mother. My vision is blurry, I can’t think straight, and I’ve forgotten my cigarettes inside. Has he seen me? Did he find out my workplace because of Facebook? Why is he here? Has anyone helped the people in my section??

 

My boss lets me leave and I spend the day thinking about you and what this all means. Was this a sign from the god of my understanding that I am supposed to face my fear and talk to you? Or is God telling me to stay the hell away?

 

As it has all simmered down, and I can now think rationally, I truly believe that I have nothing to say to you that would be constructive. I would only want to hurt you. Being an alcoholic, I know that this disease makes us do crazy things, and I am strong enough now to forgive you for your mistakes… But for what? For a relationship? For your peace of mind? For mine?

 

Sometimes I imagine you walking into the AA meeting I secretary for, us locking eyes and seeing that we are one in the same and we were both genetically blessed with this cursed disease. That we can have a healthy friendship in the safe environment that is the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, this horrifically panic riddled moment at work showed me that the reconnection of my dreams is only a fairy tale.

 

Though I no longer have nightmares or flashbacks in regards to you, no matter how many years pass, when I see your face or hear your name, I am suddenly that scared little girl wishing for the love of her life to reciprocate those feelings, wishing that you would stop hitting her, starving her, and hoping she would die.

 

I used to feel unworthy. Your words and actions led me to believe that I was a subpar human, a little girl in a world that craved boys, you made me want to kill myself just like you killed the fantasy version of me in all of your “funny” anecdotes. You taught me that men were incapable of love outside of themselves. I believed that men only did nice things as a front to get what they wanted.

 

Today, because of the alcoholic gene that you have passed to only me and the totally god sent gift of sobriety, I am able to love. I love myself, everyone around me, and life in general, without fear or anxiety. I was taught through the alcoholic men in the rooms that males too are capable of true and pure love. I used to date men that mirrored you and your inability to connect, now I am with a man that proves his love from hour to hour in the most selfless, generous, and kind ways. Today, people don’t worry about me trying to harm myself. Today, I no longer need to gain approval from you (or anyone else) in order to feel and realize the volume vastness of my emotional success. I know that I am enough, and that I am a whole person, not despite of, but specifically because of my serious lacking of any positive male role model.

 

I want to thank you for ceasing the fight for custody when you did, for teaching me the invaluable lesson that love must come from within and that I can’t depend on someone else to take care of my emotional needs. Thank you for giving me the wisdom to walk away from any relationship that does not suit me, or more importantly, one that’s riddled with abuse. Thank you for teaching me how not to raise a child, and the importance of a parent’s unconditional love. I’ve learned just as much from you about what not to do in love as I have from AA about what I should do.

 

Today, I am grateful for the struggle that was our relationship and I am grateful that you are an alcoholic that could not give me the love I so clearly deserved. Today, because of all the pain and suffering, I am trudging my way to a very happy destiny.

 

Sorrow and Gratitude

My Name is Steph, I am an alcoholic, and I am so fucking grateful to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

This past Friday I received news from an emergency room doctor that I have a medical condition which has affected both of my ovaries and typically leads to infertility. [Shit.]

My immediate thought was, “But I’m only twenty-three years old, this is something I shouldn’t be facing until I’m at least in my thirties!” Which surprisingly was not that far from my thoughts immediately before coming into the rooms, “I’m only twenty-one! I should be drinking until I’m at least in my thirties!”

As my sudden shock began to dissipate, that fearful thought morphed into something much more divine, a thought that may have been placed in my mind so directly and gracefully by the God of my understanding.

I thought to myself, “My goals, ambitions, and aspirations before getting sober and even leading up until today have all been great, but if those had come to fruition, I would have sold myself oh so short from what my God had planned for me instead. You do not know that you are infertile, but if you are, it is God’s will. God has so much more in store for you than you can ever comprehend. You do not need to know his will, or even have remote understanding, you just need to trust and have faith that it is right. You will be okay.”

So grasping onto this acceptance, and holding tight as not to let myself sway from the feelings and thoughts of love back to those of fear, I carried this through my weekend and into this morning.

Since getting sober, I have learned that when problems arise I must face them, that what I ignore grows. This concept became much more understandable to me today as I made the phone call to schedule a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN to learn about what is happening within me, the severity of it, and what my options for treatment are. Every fiber of me wanted to ignore this, to stow it away until a more appropriate time, like when I actually want to have a baby. But this head full of AA quickly reminded me that my health is not something to push to a back burner, that my treatment options will limit themselves the longer I wait.

So I made the call, I sat on hold for what felt like an eternity. I told myself that at fifteen minutes I could hang up and call later. A perfectly quick and easy, totally justifiable out from this dreaded phone call. At fourteen minutes and fifty-four seconds, the operator answered. [Shit.]

After I told her the condition which had been discovered and that I had been instructed to make an appointment, she briskly and cheerfully stated, “Oh, let me transfer you to our fertility clinic which specializes in your disorder! Please hold!”

That was it. Fertility Clinic??? Suddenly all of the feelings of sorrow swooped in. Suddenly it was real. Suddenly I was mourning the dream of a child whose eyes matched mine, whose laugh was as silly and loud as mine, who I loved fully and unconditionally. Suddenly I was seeing my significant others face as I crushed his own dreams of biological fatherhood. Suddenly I watched my value as a woman decrease on a scale of 1-10 (infertile and an alcoholic? She has to only be a four pointer!). Suddenly I watched my ambitions of a family crumble beneath my feet, dropping me to the floor of my pity party pit and landing on my back with the wind completely swept from my lungs. Suddenly the tears had come.

“Hello, Penn State Hershey Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, how may I assist your call?”

[Get it together, get it together!!]

I got it together.

I finished the call, I made the appointment, I went to a meeting, I shared at that meeting, and I cried at that meeting. I let my guard down to my support network, I let myself feel the feelings. I let myself cry more, I let myself have an extra slice of pizza for lunch, I let myself have some time in bed pretending to be a burrito, and I let myself write to better comprehend these complex emotions, and more importantly, I let myself pray to God multiple times to give thanks for this life and let him know that I trust him completely.

Today, I can feel sadness and loss and confusion all for the medical journey I am about to embark on while simultaneously feeling gratitude and understand that what’s happening and what is in store is all apart of God’s divine plan.

That is this program; that is the spiritual life; that is not the pink cloud, but pure gratitude; that is a perfect example of how alcoholics anonymous has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams.

This could have been a perfect excuse to throw a killer pity party with booze galore. But today, it wasn’t. Today it was just an obstacle upon my journey trudging the road of happy destiny.

The Move From Fear to Faith

For the past two months I have been a dry drunk. Dwelling in the pits of fear. Turning that pit into a home.. putting up artwork and getting new living wear which will perfectly compliment those crusty blue drapes.

I moved into this home shortly after I decided to wait a few weeks to go through with my ninth step. The longer I procrastinated, the more cozy my fear induced pain felt. As I resisted the phone calls, the messages, the pieces of paper begging to be written on, I chose to snuggle in and watch a few episodes of Netflix with the fear. I avoided my favorite meetings, and called my sponsor less often, because none of them would appreciate the rustic beauty of my newfound pit.

I love sobriety and the butterflies I experience every time I embark on a new experience that leads to growth, but man was that pity, fear, and pain comfortable.

As I mozied around my actual house tonight, hitting the garage for my last cigarette before bed, the thought popped into my head to type my first message to someone on my list of amends.

No big deal, I’m just typing it on a notepad. I’m not actually sending it tonight. I’ll wait till I can read it to my sponsor first.

Now, have you ever seen those cartoons where the main doodle in a moment of inner conflict has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other? I like to believe that I have that, yet on one of my shoulders is my alcoholism and on the other is my higher power. The tricky part of all this, is that they both look like me, and they both sound like me. Thankfully, I’ve learned through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous how to distinguish between the two. Tonight I felt those two forces waging war, a conflict my dear friend Kathy would claim was between FEAR and LOVE.

FEAR (or my alcoholism) says: Put it off till tomorrow, you should really sleep on it
LOVE (or my higher power) says: There will never be a perfect time, send it.
FEAR: But you want the perfect moment
LOVE: perfection is the ultimate procrastination
FEAR: You’ll be okay not doing a ninth step
LOVE: no you won’t
FEAR: just go to sleep, all will be okay.
LOVE: You will end up drunk if you don’t do this.

ME: (Frantically hits the send button)

For more than a few moments I sat in silence with my hand covering my pounding heart. I felt free, I felt nervous, I felt love, I felt nervous, I felt a connectedness to God, I felt nervous, I felt everything. I FELT NERVOUS!

I quietly sat in silence for a few more moments fully expecting to either get a message back sometime tomorrow or never at all.

In an attempt to soothe my neurosis, still clutching my chest waiting for the throbbing beneath my ribs to subside, I decided to scroll through my Facebook feed and the most fantastic thing caught my attention. Though I had breezed by this photo several times throughout the day, for some reason, something within me told me to stop and read it:

Screenshot (11)

In that moment, I felt my heart beneath my hand begin to slow, and paid attention to what my God has been trying to tell me. That I am sober for a reason. That my recovery has a purpose. That this was the right move. That I cannot and should not give up or stand still.

I walked to my room with my jaw practically resting on my chest. I carefully laid my phone down on the bed and started to get on my knees for a moment of prayer to thank my higher power for this moment. When I hear a ding!

The recipient of my amends was messaging me to say that she would love to get together for coffee and a talk.

Anddd there goes my heart rate again! I sat there in utter shock and decided its finally time to talk to my sponsor and tell her where I’ve been living, in this stinking pit of fear, about my moment sifting through the words from the powers on my shoulders.

After a good talk and lots of smiles and a lot of fast paced climbing out of this dreary and poorly decorated ditch, I thought to myself, “Now! Now is the time to pray and give thanks.” Fear whispered in my ear, just go have another smoke to calm down, you can thank God later….

And just like that I was on my knees.

As I parted my lips to express this bursting gratitude. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of joy. A joy I have not felt in some time. I had barely released the opening sounds of “Thank” before I started cathartically crying from joy. I could not get any words out. I just let the tears flow freely from my finally awoken eyes, I cradled my head, and I swear I could feel myself crying with my higher power. I felt their presence around, within, and on me. I tried again to say thank you, but the tears came even harder. I gave up my words and let myself feel all the love that the God of my understanding has to offer. And once finished uttered a simple “Thank You,” and sat quietly reflecting on this pivotal moment.

Though that hole in the ground was familiar, it was not comfortable. It was painful, but I understood it. I fell swiftly and deeply for the seductive murmurs of my disease. I feel embarrassed that I let the charm seep in slowly and fill my the home that is my mind with fear. I not only opened the door for it, but I made it tea and cookies.

So how do I explain this sudden psychic change? This monumental and ultra sudden move from fear to faith? Was it a divine intervention? Maybe. But who knows? Whatever it was, I know with all of my heart, because of my friends in AA, that God has a plan for me. I don’t have to know it, I don’t have to understand it, and I certainly don’t have to like it. But it is GOOD, it is RIGHT, and I am capable of accepting it, so long as I have faith; the faith which was blessed to me once I put down the bottle and realized that my will, and my diseases will, are ultimately leading me down the path to death.

THANK GOD FOR THIS PROGRAM, THANK GOD FOR THESE AA PEOPLE, THANK GOD I DIDN’T DRINK, AMD THANK GOD FOR HIS LOVE.

The Ultimate Philosophical Journey For a Person in the 21st Century: Alcoholics Anonymous

In a country that is devoted to the growth of technological advances and encourages its citizens to experience life and communicate primarily through the internet, text messages, and emails it is easy to forget how to live a life that is full of meaning. It is easy to forget what “meaning” it is that we even seek. Sometimes I wonder if my generation was ever even taught what “meaning” it is that we are supposedly, yet, desperately searching for. Before I hit the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and got sober, I truly believed I was leading a fulfilling life, for I was dating, (kind of) going to school, and taking selfies daily, and attempted as best I could to live a life free from worry or true contemplation about the more serious conditions of my life (i.e. where it was going, what I wanted from it, and my over-all level of depleted happiness). I was under the (now, humorously) misguided impression that Alcoholics Anonymous was a program that simply helped you quit drinking and drugging, but to my surprise putting down the bottle was only the smallest step to a journey that requires you to change just one simple thing: your entire life. In this essay I will attempt to show the almost parallel journey to happiness, perfection of the soul, and a rare sort of earthly wholeness that is not only taken by some of the greatest philosophers ever to have graced this earth, but also by that of a sober alcoholic working the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as how each of the twelve steps (individually and as a whole) embody several theories from those aforementioned philosophers.

To understand the commonalities between Alcoholics Anonymous and all of philosophy’s quests for happiness, one must first fully understand that the disease of alcoholism is not simply that a person drinks too much alcohol; alcohol is but a symptom of an insidious sickness that infects every facet of a person’s psyche. For even if an alcoholic manages to stop drinking completely on their own accounts, they will quickly find that they are absolutely miserable and their lives are still filled with unmanageability. Why is this? The answer is simple, alcoholics suffer from delusions of inferiority and grandeur through means of judging themselves against others, lack any healthy coping mechanisms, create and carry around endless amounts of irrational resentments, and frankly the list of unmanageable alcoholic characteristics could go on endlessly. Alcoholics are BORN with these characteristics; they do not come simply from having drank too much. The drink was only used to ease the constant feeling of being uncomfortable. That being said, when the drink is taken away, the alcoholic is still left with all of the problems they originally had, only no conceivable way to effectively cope with them or make life better. The term we use in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous for such a person that doesn’t seek to improve these problems of the personality yet lives without the drink, is “dry drunk”, for the individual who lacks the insight and capability to seek happiness is far worse than the one who is actively drinking. That is why the first step, (We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable) is broken down into two parts. A: that we are powerless over a drink, and B: our lives are still unmanageable regardless of the absence of alcohol. Truly, the main focus of removing alcohol is simply so that we are clear minded enough to work tirelessly towards spiritual perfection and happiness. However, alcoholics aren’t the only people who choose to remove the drink from their lives to allow this journey to happiness take place, philosophers have as well. Friedrich Nietzsche understood completely the adverse effects of alcohol towards happiness, so he chose to abstain completely, as quoted in Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy, “I cannot advise all more spiritual natures too seriously to abstain from alcohol absolutely. Water suffices.” (Botton, 2000) Nietzsche understood that alcohol is used to dull painful or uncomfortable things in life, and to live a life of true happiness one must also experience the pain; for drinking alcohol to drown your sorrows is to eliminate painful obstacles that will inevitably lead to happiness down the road. When the eleven simple steps following the removal of alcohol are taken with care and diligence, an alcoholic will experience a closeness to god, themselves, and all those in close proximity, which I would guess could almost never be reached otherwise. The sort of pure, unadulterated, happiness that is gained from this type of reflection and understanding of the self and surrounding world in today’s society can be brought from very few things, but the most poignant in my eyes being, Alcoholics Anonymous or living and studying philosophy.

To begin the comparison of how AA’s program relates to philosophy, let’s examine the works of Socrates. Socrates was known for his infuriating use of irony and dialectic. I say infuriating because I have been on the opposite side of this means of communication, and it is not the least bit fun. Socrates spent most of his time talking to people and when he did he would ask endless questions that would make his counter interlocutor question their original stance, set of morals, and over all reasoning. Upon first hearing about this method, I was immediately immersed in the memories of just about every AA meeting I’ve ever been to. Everyone I have spoken to will ask me thought provoking questions that make me reevaluate my motivations and come to a conclusion that I never would have accepted or believed to be true unless I came to it on my own. At the beginning of every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the opening literature it is read that, “we do not teach, advise, cross-talk, or lecture…” because it is a well-known fact that no matter how many times someone tells us the right thing to do, we rarely will. And thank goodness for that; even if a person could save us from suffering, it would not help us in the long run, for the best lessons anyone of us on earth has learned, has come from mistakes made upon our own account, not from hearing what happened to someone else. I do not believe this reaction of indifference to advice is limited to the alcoholic, but our society as a whole, we are a people that often do not want to take the advice of anyone because we want to feel that our own ideas will lead to the best and most positive outcome independently. I think that when being told what to do, an alcoholic (or anyone) can’t help but recoil from advice as if from a hot flame. However, when being led gently to the correct answer through thoughtful questions the pill of reality is much easier to swallow.

What most intrigued me and really made the connections between Alcoholics Anonymous and philosophy clearer to me was Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which coincides perfectly with the removal of alcohol and step one. A few weeks ago while chairing an AA meeting, I explained that my transition from active alcoholism to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous was startlingly similar to the escaped prisoner in the story and found that many of my friends in the fellowship felt the same way about it. For me, alcoholism was a prison, only I didn’t realize the key to release was in my hand the entire time. I saw life around me, but it was only life’s shadows that I was experiencing. I had no idea of a higher power, was oblivious to the fact that I was not in fact the center of the entire planetary system, and saw everything from a reactive rather than active view-point. As people spoke, I did not hear it in the form of echoes, but with an ulterior and plotting tone beneath everything said to me. When I was released from the dark and dreary cave that was alcohol and took a few steps into the light of truth and God, I felt immense amounts of pain as the prisoner from the Allegory had. Though my eyes were still intact, my mind was able to see a 360 degree view of my life, rather than the 90 degree angle I had previously lived with. I could feel pains that I never had before because there was no longer any vice to mask them. As I grew stronger with sobriety, I find that I make choices with much more clarity and soundness than I ever had while living in the cave. In the beginning, the pain that the sun brought felt like too much for a person to possibly bear, I wanted to run back to the cave where I lacked obstacles and could lounge in the world that I had known so well, but with the help of people in the rooms, I was given the pushes I needed to get up the grassy hill of Alcoholics Anonymous and forced myself to face that oh so bright light and was quickly able to adjust to this new and foreign life. In this light I was able to see myself, not as the miniscule shadows that had sat close to my feet at times or the ones that had been larger than life scaling the entire wall of the cave; but for who in truth I had been before, as I was then, and who I would later become. With this showering of light, or truth and goodness, there comes a price. The people who once were beloved to you, but still reside in the cave, can never accept this new reality, unless of course they choose to see the key that’s always been in their own hands and join you to bask in the sun. However, you cannot make someone find their key, so until then it is not safe to visit the old cave. The other prisoners will notice that you can no longer see in the dark, and therefore believe you to have been ruined, and ultimately, metaphorically, kill you. I am not alone in this journey out of the cave and into sobriety, over one hundred alcoholics shared their own escape from the pits as being the same, and I find it safe to say that this story rings true for almost every sober alcoholic out there. Though the entrance into the world of light and spirit from the depths of the cave should be celebrated and viewed as no less than miraculous, it does not mean that the soul is perfected. There is work, and more work to be done, because there is only, “progress, not perfection,” (Step Ten, 1952) in a program of recovery or more simply, in life.

Though step two is supremely essential to moving onward with the steps and can lead to success or failure within the program, I will pass over it for the sake of time and more pressing theories, and jump right into step three, handing our will and our lives over to the care of God. The Stoics had a superb way of viewing anger and how to best avoid such frivolous bothers. Their technique of practicing the trichotomy of control is parallel to the serenity prayer that is said at least once, sometimes twice, at every single Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Earth: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In the trichotomy of control, it is expressed that one should only focus on the things that one has complete control over (such as goals and values), to not concern oneself with anything that one has no control over (like other drivers on the road), and to give things that we have some control over concern with care. I think we live in a very frustrated society because most people have not yet grasped this concept. We can never control the actions of other people, nature, or biology, not matter how much we wish to. Though in AA we are taught to hand over what we cannot control to God, the Stoics just forgot about it completely, which in essence, is fundamentally the same idea. But just because we don’t have control over such things doesn’t mean that we must become hapless victims to them, it simply means that we do the best that we can to prepare ourselves for such events, and hope for the best.

The fourth step is paramount to all else, it is the step that is certainly the most painful, and the most widely avoided. Nietzsche probably would have loved it. For an alcoholic to achieve serenity, and overcome the hurdle of pain and resentment, one must complete a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves that requires examining all hurts and angers towards other people, in what way it has or had affected our lives, and are told to find our part in the matter: the way that we were selfish, dishonest, self-centered, or inconsiderate, and the exact nature of our wrongs. This is an emotionally taxing process, which forces one to realize that they are not perfect; that they played a role in many of the situations that we had previously believed to be innocent victims in. Then, to take things even farther, there as a sex inventory, “We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion, or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.” (How it Works, 1939) As grueling as this process may seem to be, it is the key to relief and the means of becoming the person we have always wished to be. But the founders of AA were not the first to conquer this endeavor, Friedrich Nietzsche clearly stated, “It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye.” (Nietzsche) Nietzsche understood that anything worth having would take immense amounts of hard work and pain, and the founders of AA knew no different. They realized that without accepting the darkest parts of ourselves, we could never really love the bright parts without the sense of guilt. It is also in this step that we transition from Reactive beings to Active ones instead. Reactive behavior is characterized by internalizing the world around us and processing it as anger and resentment towards said world, but once thrust into Active, we are able to use the outer world as means of learning, and also how to take pain and use it as a stepping stone to our happiness and fulfillment.

In and after the process of step four (surveying oneself for great strengths and great weaknesses) and sharing with another human being the exact nature of all our wrongs, one is able to see that their personal defects are glaring. But with that new insight, the person working the steps will find that they have been transcended out of the bad-faith (as Sartre would call it) that they had previously been living in and into a balance of being-in-itself and for-itself. Both ontological structures within us become beautifully intertwined: we can see the past and present with clarity without dwelling and use the pain from it to catapult us into a brighter future, we do not see only one or few of the roles that we play, but we can admire how all of those parts play into a glorious whole that is the orchestra of our lives, we can see things through the lenses of our own experiences AND from an unbiased standpoint.

Back to the Stoics ideas, through steps six and seven we must also actively practice step three, which is to turn over what we cannot control, our defects, to God, and hope that this power greater than ourselves will move these defects and place them far from our grasp. Knowing that by working our program we can control how close to god we are, but it is ultimately up to that higher power on whether they wish to remove what is there.

And finally: steps ten, eleven, and twelve… To practice what we have learned on a daily basis and share it with those in need or still learning. But the journey is still far from over once we have completed step twelve, at this point we must start again at the beginning of step one. This may seem futile, seeing as one may think that the job is done, but with spiritual cleaning and progress, it requires work for the rest of life. For our soul is like our home, we don’t only clean it once and then we are done. As my sponsor has shared with me, we clean every day practicing the principles and working the steps, and every year we do a big spring cleaning (the fourth step) to get all the junk out of the basement and closets. Yesterdays dusting will not keep my spiritual house clean and orderly, and yesterdays shower will not keep me clean, so it would be foolish to believe that yesterdays program of recovery will keep me sober and spiritually fit today.

Sometimes I wonder where else it is possible to find such wholeness in one’s self? Where else are we put to the test to become the best person within our power? Where can we learn to live a life of meaning that is filled with reflection, transcendence, and happiness? I don’t believe that the society we live in today cultivates these desires within our youth (or adults for that matter). Personally, I think it has been lost within the hustle and bustle of capitalism and commercialism. But thankfully, there are in fact places where you can be brought back to the center. In my eyes there are two wonderfully viable routes to take, and they are nearly identical; only one has its steps written in its most simple form so that anyone that is willing can master it and the other requires a lengthy college education. Philosophy’s journey toward happiness and the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery hold countless amounts of similarities in theories. AA takes one on a journey that may seem scrupulous and unnecessary to the average Joe, but with my being personally immersed in this wonderful program, I can see clearly that the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were artfully crafted so that it is nearly impossible to fail, so long as one is honest, open-minded, and willing. With those three basic requirements and the abstinence from alcohol, the sober alcoholic is upon the philosophical journey of a lifetime.

Rebirth in AA

September 9th 2013, exactly nine months ago, I stepped into my first AA meeting after deciding drinking was no longer an option for me. I was thoroughly convinced that my life was over. I had a very vivid picture of myself with a perpetual frown on my face, listening to old drunks talk about their lives, and spending my free time playing checkers until the day that God would finally let me die. I thought I would never feel happiness again. 

I must have been thinking of Hospice rather than AA.

Thankfully, I was in so much pain, that I was willing to live the life of a senior citizen on the verge of death rather than take another drink.

To my surprise, it was nothing that I had pictured. Which is somewhat silly, because I had attended meetings in the past, maybe 10-15 over the past 5 years, and because I was so wrapped up in my own world, all I could hear was tragedy, and sit there watching the clock, itching in my skin, to burst through the doors and run to the nearest bar.

When I crossed the doors to my new life on September 9th, I was an effing mess. I couldn’t stop the flood gates for more than a few minutes, but amazingly enough I LISTENED.

There is one story I heard, that kept me coming back. A woman shared about her wedding which had taken place a day or two earlier, and explained that it was a dry occasion, and everyone from the gen-pop was awkward and didn’t know how to talk without the buffer of drugs or alcohol. She went on to say how grateful she was to just be herself, and be okay in her own skin without the aid of a chemical.

This blew my mind. I wanted that.

 

I wanted it bad.

 

So I kept coming back, every single day. I was amazed to find people of ALL ages, including a few that were as young as 15. I saw people smiling, and laughing, and enjoying life. I wanted all of it.

I had a sponsor within the week and was hitting up to 3 meetings a day, making friends with the women who were succeeding in the program, getting numbers from everyone, giving my number out to everyone. I didn’t count the days, but I just couldn’t wait for my first big girl chip, that beautiful 30 day chip, and soon enough, my 60, 90, 4 month, 5, 6 and so on. And tomorrow, when I chair at my home group, I will pick up my 9 month chip.

 

When I think back to how convinced I was that my life would end, I’m thrown by the fact that it did. The old me died, and in the wake of my active alcoholic death, I found that a new me was born.

I really like this new me.

Over the last nine months I have learned more than I ever thought possible, or even have the time to share in one sitting. My favorite thing being, love. The people in the rooms of alcoholics anonymous taught me how to love myself and others, and unconditionally at that. I learned how to have friendships, to share, to express my feelings without a buffer, how to communicate, respect every being around me…

this list could go endlessly.

In the beginning, I was facing huge implications from my drinking, the main one being I was facing a1 -2 year sentence in the upstate women’s prison. Sometimes I would think things to myself, well I might as well keep drinking until I go away, there will be time for sobriety when I’m gone.

But I didn’t pick up. I kept working the program: making meetings, calling my sponsor, not picking up one day at a time no matter how futile it seemed. Because of these healthy choices, I never had to experience that trip upstate. Because of AA I did not go to prison. If that isn’t a gift, I could tell you about 50 other unexpected, glorious things that have happened because I chose to stay sober, one day at a time.

And I just have to say that because of this wonderful program, I was able to live my life with the prospect of prison in the near future without fear. I was able to accept that God would do for me what was best. That if I went, it would be because it was best for me. There is no way in hell that I could have been equipped with enough acceptance to face that type of thing. It is only because of AA

So today, I am immensely grateful to be where I am. To be able to go to bed knowing that I’ve made good choices.  To have found this program of Alcoholics Anonymous. To have stayed in this program, working it to the best of my ability for the past nine months.

To have been Reborn.

It is the greatest gift I could have ever received.

“But You’re So Young”

“But you’re so young…”

This short sentence, these four miniscule words, are like a punch in the gut every single time I hear them.

Though I know most of the general population does not fully understand the nature and progression of this disease, it still feels like the slice of a knife for so many reasons.

During my active drinking days, I would constantly reassure myself, like a classic mother in denial, saying things like “But I’m so young… this is just a phase, my drinking will calm down eventually.”

It didn’t. My disease worsened by the day as I dug myself into deeper and deeper pits of denial with a duffle bag of other means of justification on tow.

The fact of the matter is that there is no right or wrong age to figure out that you have a serious problem. I so wish that I had been able to truly understand and grasp the severity of what would become my life as I continued down the path that I did. But I just couldn’t connect the dots.

I didn’t realize that my colds would last for weeks or months on end because I refused to stop drinking, smoking, and snorting everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t understand that my DUIs were caused by my drinking, and not strokes of bad luck. It didn’t even cross my mind that people didn’t like me because of the obnoxious drunk scenes I would make at EVERY SINGLE function I attended. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with refusing to take my antibiotic because it would make me violently ill when mixed with alcohol…

I could truly go on endlessly about all of the dots I didn’t connect. I am still connecting more each and every day that I stay sober, and it blows my mind each and every time I find a new one.

The second reason that I cant stand hearing this forbidden phrase, is that I didn’t live a normal childhood. To be completely honest, I never had a childhood. I grew up with an alcoholic step-father and a mother who had absorbed all of the unhealthy behaviors that characterize this disease. I was not allowed to do anything. Without exaggeration, I was grounded for a minimum of SIX YEARS. From age eight to 14 or 15 I was not allowed to do anything. I went to school and when I came home watched TV or played The Sims by myself until bedtime. I had absolutely no idea how to interact with people as a functioning human, or how normal lives were lived. Real life was non-existent to me. Then suddenly my step-dad, Dan, moved to Maryland and my entire world changed.

Fast Forward to age 16

I now have my own apartment with my 21 year old boyfriend, and I’m drinking every night, many mornings going to school still hammered because I hadn’t stopped until around 4:00 am. At this time my parents relationship is crumbling faster and faster and my mother has drained every single bank account to her name including mine and my brothers college funds to pay off Dan and get him out of the house. Being the drunk that he is, he spent just about every cent in a matter of weeks and moved into a shithole one bedroom shared apartment on Alison Hill (For those of you that don’t know the Harrisburg area, it is the most dangerous and impoverished part of town).

My mother soon left our family home and moved in to Dan’s apartment leaving me with the immediate responsibility to take care of my 11 year old brother.

I realized quickly that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for my apartment AND all the bills for the family home while still in high school, so I decided it was in the best interest of everyone if I dropped out.

Thankfully, the man I was in a relationship helped me so incredibly much. As I was working 13 hour days as a grill cook, he would help my brother with his homework and make him dinner every night. Thank god, for his help.

This experience went on for some time until my mother finally came home. Though I am happy that I was able to help make my brothers life better than my own, it saddens me deeply that I had to take on such responsibility at such a young age. I was thrust so quickly into an adult role that I was never truly able to go back to the delightfully immature state of others my age.

I think these moments only plunged me deeper into my disease, for I no longer was living the life of a child. I was spending time with people who led similar lives; as in people who were out of school, paying their own bills, raising kids, working full time, and consequently, drinking leisurely because they were of age.

Though I know when someone says “but you’re so young” in reference to my sober lifestyle they don’t mean it in a hurtful way. But I just can’t help but take it personal. It feels as if they are belittling what I’ve experienced. It feels like I need to defend my choice, and if I were in a bad state of my recovery, it could easily be the phrase that catapults me back in to denial.

But my recovery is not up to them. It is not something I need to explain or defend.

What I hear is so staggeringly far from what they actually have said. I am a being that perceives things according to my history. And though it may sometimes give me an edge of enlightenment, it also gets me into a mental battle that is unfitting for the occasion.

Over the next 24 hours I need to monitor my responses to outward stimuli, because nothing is as appears to be in my eyes. I need to be aware that I operate overly defensively, I assume an oncoming attack at all times. But 99% of the time, it is not an attack. It is only my disease working in amazingly cunning ways to make me feel less than.

But today that is the farthest thing from the truth. Today I am whole, and it is because of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today I will ignore the words that feel like snakes venom, and know that I have made the right decision, I am in the right place, and most importantly, I will thank god, for letting me see my disease as early as I did.

I am NOT a “cute” drunk

I LOVE romantic comedies. They would be the only genre of movies I would watch if it weren’t for the fact that almost all of my friends and family hate them. However, last night my mom was over to watch a movie, and being the hopeless romantic that she is, happily obliged to the movie of my choosing.

It was the typical rom-com story line with a slight twist.. Man falls in love with Woman on HER wedding day, spends the entire next hour working to woo the crap out of her and convince her to leave A-hole husband for him. Of course Woman eventually does leave A-hole and finds Man to let him know what a good noble human he is in comparison to A-hole. When she finally does go see him, she is piss drunk. And ADORABLE.

This got me thinking about all of the rom-coms I’ve ever seen… 9 times out of 10 there is a scene that the girl is obliterated and the man just finds her even more endearing.

It is this moment, every single time, that makes me think “ahhhhhhh that’s why I need to keep drinking!”

In my drinking days after seeing this moment, I would always think to myself “This is exactly why I cant stop drinking, if I get sober, I’ll never have adorable moments like this that make men fall madly in love with me.”

This time when I watched “the moment” my first thought was “crap. I am never going to have that again.” I then realized, that I am never going to have that moment whether I’m sober or drinking. Because I am NOT cute when I drink.

I am a fall down, black out, break my ankle, punch you in the face, piss my pants kind of drunk.

I believe there were one or two times in my drinking career that at the beginning of a relationship, when I was on my absolute best behavior, a man said “you’re kind of cute when you’re drunk.”
There are no sweeter words on earth that could have been said to a female alcoholic like me.
There was nothing I wanted to be more than the girl who could be classy with a glass of wine while also being able to handle shots of whiskey with my man.

Unfortunately, I am not that girl in any way. I am the girl that drinks two bottles of wine at dinner, spills most of it on myself, begins slurring my words, tries to have sex with you in a closet, and passes out in the middle, then wakes up and punches you in the face for not finishing.

Yes, that’s the kind of drunk I am.

So after watching this movie and thinking for a moment that maybe, just maybe, I could try to be that girl one last time… I decided to play the tape through. Sometimes, it’s really hard for me to get to the end of that tape because those tapes end in black outs. Which means I’m only left with the parts that seem adorable in my own mind.

Now here’s where it gets interesting for me. I used to always tell my friends not to tell me a single thing that I did or said when I was blacked out that would make me cringe. Being the obedient friends that they are, they decided to record black out Steph on her 21st birthday. I have avoided these videos for the past 8 months as if they were the black plague.

But last night, as I had trouble playing the reel through in my own head, I thought it would be a good idea to use a visual aid.

I texted that friend and asked her to send me the videos from that night. *shivers*

As I tried to watch these videos my stomach immediately began to turn. I couldn’t hold myself up, I was screaming at people, I had pizza sauce all over my legs, mascara down my face, and a cigarette burn through my favorite shirt. I finally couldn’t take it anymore at the scene with me on the floor with my legs spread yelling about needing more pizza.

Adorable, right?

Now I know, many people may say “well, that was your 21st birthday, everyone gets a little crazy.” But what’s really scary to me, was that I had been THAT messed up at bare minimum 4 times a month for the past 5 years.

YIKES.

Moral of the story: Sober me is cute, Drunk me is a fucking disaster. For me, there is no in between.
I will never be the adorable drunk girl in the rom-com box office hits. What I will be is the girl who is honest, clear minded, comfortable in her own skin, and not fearful of telling someone how I feel without chemical aid. That is more than adorable, that’s real, that’s admirable.

That will be me.